In my profession, the disparity between the number of men and women is stark. Twice as many women computer science majors graduated with my mother than with me at the same school. I have always expected that any place I work will have fewer women than men because of this fact.
It’s kind of sad that I never expected anything else, but I have always been OK with the fact that I would end up working with a lot of men. Sometimes it even feels like I’m working with a bunch of boys whose senses of humor are stuck at a middle school level. Which can be both entertaining and very inappropriate. Then again, I never really enjoyed spending time with girls at that age anyway.
Despite growing up with two younger sisters, by the time I got to college, it was easier to talk to guys than girls, especially if those girls were in my Computer Science classes. In fact, the first few weeks at school I was approached by some older girls on my floor who wanted to warn me that it looked suspicious that I had half a dozen different guys up to my room over the course of a week. Little did they know it was always related to homework, just a side effect of the fact that I was one of two freshmen girls who had declared my major. I guess they were more right than I wanted them to be, since I ended up marrying one of those boys from my first CS labs.
That other freshman girl in my class didn’t end up sticking with the major (the girls I graduated with came over to CS from math and engineering). Some part of me still wants to take some of the blame for that girl leaving the program, because I never really talked to her to encourage her to stay. At that point in my life, I was taking great pleasure in being the favored child in class, flitting around talking to the boys and showing off how much I knew. I felt like I needed to prove myself and that somehow she was my competition more than the guys were.
I kick myself now for such behavior, because I recognize how immature it was, but that type of attitude is still something I’m working on. I don’t need to be the best in the room, and I don’t need to show off for attention. I can be kind and friendly without discriminating who I show those attitudes to. And without looking or acting like a terrible flirt (thanks again floormates for that epitaph).
I imagine avoiding the perception of flirting is somewhat easier for me than it would be for a single woman, since I’ve got a ring to indicate I’m taken, but it’s sad to think that friendliness could be so easily misconstrued. But everyone should be able to form friendships without being perceived as having an ulterior, romantic motive. How can we treat our colleagues and friends as uniquely valued individuals unless we put aside such attitudes and perceptions of others.
The men in my life are really all throughout my life. At home, at work, with friends, I’m constantly surrounded, and often out numbered. Finding a way to relate to and engage with the people around me has necessitated forming friendships with them. Friendships with these people come out of the environment and attitudes we share, and help me to grow by giving me access to different perspectives. Perspectives that are different and valuable to me, regardless of what gender they come from.
I value and trust my male friends, but I also know the importance of being able to relate more easily in some ways to my female friends. There aren’t nearly as many around me to be friends with, but that means I value them even more. I’ve learned, since those early days of college, that I cannot be in competition with people in a way that will push them away. Their successes are not my failures, but admiring their skills should help drive me forward in developing mine. Friends build each other up and challenge each other.
I know its cliché, but the best way to make a friend is to be a friend. And that means being a friend to the people around you, regardless of their gender. Friends support one another, and I know I would not have made it where I am today without the support of the people around me.